Burnley’s squad is arguably stronger than the one Owen Coyle got promoted, writes Jamie Smith.
Now, I’m not saying we should expect promotion this season. But our squad is very strong, with only Jay Rodriguez leaving so far this summer. But is it as strong as the squad we had four summers ago?
Brian Jensen is still a Burnley player, but Lee Grant will start the season as number one. Both are capable of match-winning performances, but the Beast was like a man possessed in the promotion year. Grant started the season strongly, but he will have to keep progressing to match that year’s form from Jensen. EH 0-1 OC.
Michael Duff and Rhys Williams were the right-backs in the promotion year (not Tyrone Mears as this article originally said) and although both were solid enough, Kieran Trippier represents a step up. Excellent delivery from deep or the byline and good set pieces too, Trippier is the best right-back Burnley have had in ages. EH 1-1 OC.
Steven Caldwell wasn’t the fastest Burnley defender of all time, but he was a proper leader and one we haven’t replaced. Well, we hadn’t until the arrival of Jason Shackell. Caldwell led the side to promotion, racking up a string of clean sheets during the vital run-in that built momentum ahead of four in a spin with no goals conceded to seal promotion. Shackell has impressed in pre-season but will have to settle immediately to match the impact of Caldwell that year. EH 1-2 OC.
Clarke Carlisle played arguably the best football of his career in the promotion season and was truly outstanding at Wembley. But he was prone to lapses in concentration, a bit like his replacement for this season David Edgar. The Canada international developed well in the last 12 months and should improve again alongside a true leader in Shackell. His passing from the back is set to be a major feature of Burnley’s play this season. I’m edging for Edgar on this one because I believe he can have a Premier League career if he keeps developing, while Carlisle struggled to make that step. EH 2-2 OC.
I was a huge fan of Christian Kalvenes, a gritty performer who always stepped up for the big games. But he was a sadly limited individual. Joe Mills and Danny Lafferty both seem to be a step-up on him, whoever gets the nod on Saturday, with Mills seeming favourite after he played in the 3-1 win at Port Vale. Mills or Lafferty will also provide more balance – both Howe and Coyle’s Burnley have concentrated too much on the right flank at times due to their excellent attacking full-back on that side. EH 3-2 OC.
Xavi will never play for Burnley. But in the promotion season, we had the next best thing in Graham Alexander. Steve Cotterill converted the penalty specialist right-back into a defensive midfielder, but it was under Owen Coyle that the Scotland international excelled, mopping up loose balls ahead of the back four and providing protection for Carlisle and Caldwell. His goals at Nottingham Forest proved to be a turning point early in the season and he rarely had a bad game. Brian Stock will play that role this season and looks to be a solid buy from Howe, but it has to be Grezza here. EH 3-3 OC.
The only man to be in both sides is Chris McCann. Tremendous in the promotion season, a succession of injuries triggered by him going off at Wembley robbed him of the chance to develop into one of the country’s premier box-to-box midfielders. But he’s back and without the captaincy should be back to his best. A force to be reckoned with at either end of the park at his best, McCann has to get beyond the striker with piercing runs to be at his most effective. Let’s hope Eddie frees him up to play that destroying role he made his own four years ago. It has to be OC-era McCann for now, although his potential remains huge and I’ll be amazed if he’s not a Premier League player within three years, as well as an Ireland international. EH 3-4 OC.
The third midfielder
The Clarets often played with three central midfielders in the promotion season and the arrival of Stock points to us doing the same at times this year. Wade Elliott was the extra man four years ago and he provided an inventive spark who could drift into dangerous areas and hurt teams with his delivery from wide areas. With Marvin Bartley missing the start of the season through injury, Dean Marney is likely to be the third midfielder and although he has his own talents – boundless energy, aggression and timing of the challenge among them – most Clarets would take probably Elliott back from Birmingham City over Marney. EH 3-5 OC.
The wide-bottomed creator
Robbie Blake was a magician. It’s not fair to compare other Clarets to him, but for the purpose of this article, we must. Ross Wallace had a good year last season and I’m a fan of his, but he can’t touch Robbie. His skill against Spurs in the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final will never be forgotten by anyone at Turf Moor that night. Wallace’s free-kicks are arguably as good, but he has nowhere near as much impact from open play. EH 3-6 OC.
The mercurial winger
Chris Eagles is probably the most frustrating Claret I can recall seeing grace Turf Moor. He has oodles of talent, but seemed unable to access it on a regular basis. His decision-making was wonky, he regularly made a mess of breaks and his final ball really wasn’t anything to write him about. But he always wanted the ball. I like Junior Stanislas and think he has a big part to play this year, but he is guilty of drifting around on the peripheral of the game. He needs to demand the ball more and make things happen to have a similar impact to Eagles in the promotion season. EH 3-7 OC.
Martin Paterson must be a horrible striker for defenders to play against. They never get a moment’s peace and he runs them ragged for the full 90 minutes. But Charlie Austin offers an altogether different type of threat. An instinctive finisher, Austin can achieve next to nothing all game but then pop up from nowhere to score the winner. It’s a matter of opinion which you’d rather have but if we’re judging solely on goals, then I fully expect Pato’s 19 goals in 59 games – a little over one in three – in the promotion season to be eclipsed by Austin this year. EH 4-7 OC.
Burnley’s transfer market moves this summer added a depth to the squad we haven’t had in years. If everyone is fit, we could name Paterson, Danny Ings, Sam Vokes, Michael Duff, Ben Mee, Marvin Bartley and Brian Jensen on the bench – seven players who would get in a lot of Championship sides. It promises to be a massive boost when suspensions and injuries kick in and gives Howe options if things aren’t going his way. During the promotion season, Steven Thompson was probably our most effective support man. Chipping in with key goals – including that strike at Reading – Thompson always seemed to do the business when it counted.
Joey Gudjonsson also had a vital role to play, stepping up at Wembley when McCann was forced off with an injury. Coyle had a young Jay Rodriguez in reserve but used him sparingly and the likes of Kevin McDonald only performed to their best in flashes. Ultimately, it was Coyle’s first XI that won us promotion. If we go up this year, it could well be back-up players like George Porter – who Howe has played down – who could make the difference. EH 5-7 OC.
Howe 5 – 7 Coyle
Although my scorecard comes out in favour of Coyle’s team, it’s striking how close it is. Stock and Shackell only missed out because of the excellence of Caldwell and Alexander that season – they could well turn out to be even better. Howe certainly has options, although the injury to Ings poses a problem he must have hoped to avoid after a string of long-term absentees since he came to the club. The players at Howe’s disposal this year suggest we should improve on last season despite the sale of Rodriguez – a top ten spot should be well within our capabilities and we could go even further.
Jamie’s 2008-09/2012-13 team
Kieran Trippier David Edgar Steven Caldwell Joe Mills
Wade Elliott Chris McCann
Chris Eagles Robbie Blake
That’s from picking man-to-man. An arguably even stronger side is available by just picking whoever from either squad.
Kieran Trippier Jason Shackell Steven Caldwell Joe Mills
Brian Stock Chris McCann
Chris Eagles Robbie Blake
How does Saturday’s likely team compare?
Kieran Trippier Jason Shackell David Edgar Joe Mills
Brian Stock Dean Marney
Junior Stanislas Ross Wallace
2008 v 2012. Who would win? Comment below.